The Broadcasting Standards Authority used to do this fantastic test of community standards when it came to language. They would knock on people’s doors, hold up cards with words like “Arsehole” on them, and say, “How offensive is this?” Disappointingly, this is now done over the internet, but the results page is still one of my favourite places on the internet. The survey is done every four years, and listening to people trying to report on it without breeching the very broadcasting standards it concerns is a thing of joy.
This is not about that. But it’s worth bringing up to note that what the BSA does is not set “community standards”, but reflect them. Its job is not to tell people what to find offensive, but to have people tell it, and then try to apply that standard consistently. I personally would have “faggot” much higher on that list, but that’s not the BSA’s fault. (Also, I’d hyphenate “mother fucker”, so what do I know?)
In this spirit, the BSA has just released the report on its Litmus Test of the Good Taste and Decency Standard. So many jokes. Shush.
The purpose of this testing is to help ascertain how well BSA decisions align with public opinion. This contributes to ensuring the BSA has a clear appreciation of the diversity of community views and public attitudes towards these decisions.
The BSA put five of its decisions before four focus groups. They were shown clips, asked if each piece was offensive, then told the BSA’s ruling and asked whether they agreed with it. It should be noted that there were only 28 participants across the four groups. For the first time, some of the focus groups were located outside of Auckland: in Hamilton, Wellington, and Ashburton.
The broader findings are consistent with those of the Sweary Bastards survey. Our community’s standards are slowly changing. We are becoming less offended by sex and swearing, and more offended by sexism and racism. There were also, taking into account small numbers, geographic variations.
In Wellington, for example, participants appeared more sensitive to issues relating to racism or sexism. The Wellington group also appeared to more readily grasp the role of context when considering good taste and decency. This was less the case in Ashburton, where participants in the group appeared less likely to take context into consideration when evaluating the clips. In Hamilton, the group was broad-thinking and very aware of tolerance of diversity issues, while the Auckland group was more conservative in its views in terms of what was acceptable and more likely to perceive that standards in broadcasting are being lowered.
Also, there were some issues with… er, no, I can’t think of a tactful way to describe this. One of the clips was one of Jeremy Wells’ Like Mike pieces.
It should be noted that in Ashburton and Auckland the voting for whether the complaint should be upheld was made when participants did not realise that the clip was a parody of Mike Hosking (even though this was explained upfront in Auckland, participants seemed not to register the fact and it had to be reiterated to them again once they had already made their judgements).
Wells is good. And, y’know, Poe’s Law. But people in Auckland were the hardest to convince that it wasn’t actually Mike Hosking? Are we sure, really really sure, that Hosking himself isn’t just playing a very long trolling game?
A common theme, given the complaints tested encompassed Paul Henry, Sean Plunkett, breakfast radio, and I guess Mike Hosking, was “Well you have to expect that from those people, don’t you?” Except often ‘people’ wasn’t the word used. I don’t know what the word used was. The BSA removed it.
I assume it’s on the list somewhere.
But I do recognise the sexism thing but it comes down literally that I wrote down that Paul Henry is a *** and that’s just kind of what you expect from him in some ways.
And what you’ve got is Sean Plunket sounding like an ***, really he’s demonstrating that he doesn’t understand a fundamental disability issue.
I think the guy is a *** so he doesn’t even understand what disability is about.
It’s sweet of them to protect me, but I just inserted “cunt” in every one of those gaps. Yes, even the second one.
There was one complaint that caused some division, where the majority of the focus groups did not agree with the BSA ruling:
During Sean Plunket’s talkback show, the CEO for the National Foundation for the Deaf called in to discuss captioning on television, especially the perceived problem of the lack of captioning on broadcasts of games in the Rugby World Cup 2015. In response Mr Plunket questioned whether this was really a problem, suggested that ‘You can actually watch the rugby with the sound off, you can see – they’ve got big numbers on their backs – you can see what’s happening’ and terminated the call by saying to the CEO, ‘You do have a hearing problem because you’re not actually engaging in a conversation.’
The BSA chose not to uphold the complaint, stating that;
talkback radio is an environment where excessive language and inappropriate comments are often heard from listeners calling in and sometimes from the radio host, in order to stimulate reactions and responses. Talkback radio is an example of freedom of expression in action and it serves a valuable public purpose, giving some who may not otherwise have any opportunity to be heard, a forum where their views can be expressed.
Two problems with this. One is perfectly articulated by one of the Ashburton participants.
“They say that talkback radio is an example of freedom of expression and action and serves a valuable public purpose, well he didn’t allow her that as such. She didn’t get a chance, did she? He never actually gave her a chance to express her opinion.”
The other takes us back to the Swearing is Fun! Survey. One of the patterns that emerged from that survey was that
Use of ‘bad’ language by radio hosts, in both breakfast programmes and talkback scenarios, is less acceptable than in other scenarios
Related to the above, there appears less tolerance for use of ‘bad’ language from real people (as opposed to actors), including interviewees and callers to radio talkback
Their own data says people hold talkback radio hosts to a higher standard of Good Taste and Decency. Well. Higher than Game of Thrones.
One thing we can deduce from these findings. It’s okay to ask a female scientist if she’s fucked Richard Branson. It’s not okay to say “fuck” while you do it. That’s our current community standard.